Great Visual Storytelling in the Automotive Industry

Great Visual Storytelling in the Automotive Industry


At a time when people upload 1.8 billion images a day, visual storytelling is table stakes for most businesses to be relevant to consumers. But sharing one’s brand through images and video content is not always easy. Just as developing Web copy and blog content requires effective writing skills, visual storytelling demands close attention to how images create an emotional connection like no other communication medium.

Fortunately, businesses can learn from each other by example, and not necessarily from inside their own industries. For instance, it does not matter whether you sell bathroom fixtures or books: you can learn a lot from the automotive industry about visual storytelling. Automotive companies, ranging from dealers to aftermarket businesses, need to express themselves visually to succeed. (When was the last time you considered a new car purchase just by reading about the latest models?) Here are some automotive brands that are dialed in and know how to employ visual storytelling:

Humanizing a Brand

Subaru consistently uses video and imagery to inspire consumers to think of the human dimension of owning a car. For instance, to launch the 2017 Impreza model, Subaru rolled out video ads (offline and online) that tell the story of a little boy packing his bags and leaving home. Under the watchful eye of his parents, he packs the back of the family Subaru with his beloved personal possessions, including a sleeping bag and baseball bat. The end of the ad, though, reveals a heart-rending plot twist: the little boy is a young man leaving home in his Subaru. His parents are watching him through the lens of nostalgia. The ad tells a dramatic story of growing up and leaving home, with the Subaru playing a supporting role. As an old guy with a daughter graduating college, I think this ad particularly hits home. Here is a smart way to introduce a product — without saying a word about features and functionality. Subaru does it better than most and kudos to their marketing team and agency for brilliant work.

Connecting a Brand to a Lifestyle

On the other hand, NAPA Auto Parts builds its own brand by connecting its name to the excitement of automobile racing. NAPA does an exceptional job creating brand buzz through its sponsorship of drivers with popular racing bodies such as INDYCAR and NASCAR. And NAPA employs plenty of visual storytelling on its blog and social spaces to keep fans abreast of the performance of its sponsored drivers,  such as Alexander Rossi:

Of course, automobile racing lends itself to the excitement of video, and NAPA is happy to accommodate. For example, on its YouTube channel, NAPA shares video content that celebrates its drivers while building awareness for the brand value of “NAPA Know How.” The following video, for instance, effectively uses visual content plus narration to celebrate the way that Know How, skill, speed, and teamwork come together to create success with its professional drivers:

NAPA knows that sponsoring professional racers associates its brand with the distinct elements of automobile racing and uses visual storytelling to maximize the value of its sponsorships.

Providing Insight

J&P Cycles Parts & Service, the world’s largest aftermarket motorcycle parts and accessories provider, does an exceptional job using visual storytelling to provide practical “how to” knowledge.  For instance, on its YouTube channel, J&P Cycles shows visitors how to install bike accessories such as seats and brake pads. A recently posted video takes you into a cycle shop to show you how to upgrade a cycle for less than $2,000, and if you want to learn how to install mirrors on a Harley-Davidson, J&P Cycles will show you how:

Those are just some of the videos available on the J&P Cycles DIY Motorcycle Upgrades and How-To Videos Channel on YouTube.  You can also find more how-to videos on the J&P Cycles website, including tips on battery installation.

By providing how-to videos, J&P Cycles is really demonstrating customer empathy. J&P Cycles knows that the purchase of an aftermarket product is hardly the end of the experience. The real moment of truth arrives when a customer installs the product.

What You Can Learn

These examples of visual storytelling apply to any brand. For instance, businesses that provide any kind of professional service can emulate the J&P Cycles example by using video to share thought leadership. A good way to get started with visual storytelling is to first map out your paid, earned, and owned media strategy, and figure out where visual storytelling can play a role. Subaru clearly understands how to apply visual storytelling to evoke emotion for paid media. J&P Cycles has done a nice job of integrating video to enhance customer service as part of an owned media approach.

How do you apply visual storytelling? What lessons have you learned?

Three Recreational Brands That Rock Visual Storytelling

Three Recreational Brands That Rock Visual Storytelling


Recreational brands such as Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, and REI sell more than fishing tackle and hiking boots. They sell lifestyles. When you visit a Bass Pro Shop, for instance, you become immersed in an experience that celebrates the joys of fishing, hunting, and camping, which is evident from the woodsy decor, wildlife displays, and workshops and demos. These brands also celebrate outdoor living through visual storytelling. The following examples demonstrate how they do it — and build brand love at the same time:


When you visit any retailer website, you expect to find a lot of product images and specs on display. Cabela’s delivers on the table stakes but also uses visuals selectively to remind you that Cabela’s products are meant to be used outdoors, as this image of two campers rushing to a tent demonstrates:

There is more than meets the eye in the above image. The two women in the image are obviously excited to be camping as they rush to a tent with their rolled up sleeping bags. But you don’t see their faces. And Cabela’s branding is subtle — you have to look closely for the Cabela’s logo. Cabela’s demonstrates trust in its audience. Cabela’s doesn’t want to distract us with a predictable image of two smiling models. Instead, Cabela’s evokes curiosity and mystery. Where are the two women? How do they know each other? What’s next for their camping trip? Cabela’s trusts us to figure out our own answers. Also, Cabela’s knows it does not need to hit us over the head with branding. The above photo is used on the Cabela’s website; thus, Cabela’s knows it already has our attention. Cabela’s does an excellent job creating mystique with a single image.

Bass Pro Shops

As noted, Bass Pro Shops (which recently agreed to buy Cabela’s) are noted for using the power of visual storytelling to create immersive offline worlds. As these images from different Bass Pro Shops illustrate, Bass Pro Shops really creates Outdoor Worlds, not just stores:

In addition, Bass Pro Shops encourage engagement with frequent product demonstrations and seminars on topics related to fishing and hunting. Clearly, Bass Pro Shops are places to hang out, which is a smart strategy. Creating a welcoming environment for people who hunt and fish encourages them to engage with your products. You might come into a Bass Pro Shop to buy some tackle — and after you get immersed for awhile, you’ll probably walk out with a new rod and reel. And creating the right environment visually is key.


Just about all the major outdoor retailers support their social spaces well with effective visuals. But REI gets a shout-out for really rocking its Facebook page. Like many retailers, the company relies on Facebook to announce product deals. But REI also lets pictures do the talking, as this dramatic Facebook banner photo shows:

REI also gets its Facebook visitors involved in visual storytelling. The company recently invited the REI Facebook community to share a photo of someone in their lives who introduced them to the great outdoors, resulting in charming submissions like this one:

Note also the story that the user submitted with the photo — makes you wonder about that old blue REI ice ax that once saved someone’s life.

REI does not foist its products upon you with these images. Rather, REI celebrates outdoor life through the people who use its products.

What You Can Learn

These outdoor retailers clearly know how to play to the emotional value of lifestyle branding. When you sell a lifestyle, you appeal to human desire. We might want to buy a new pair of hiking boots, a kayak or a tent, but we really desire time away. Time away to explore a new trail, river or just camp in the woods. These brands create desire in their own ways — Cabela’s through the power of mystique and suggestion, Bass Pro Shops by creating immersive worlds, and REI by giving you a slice of life outdoors while online.

Incorporating visual storytelling into your branding and media efforts is paramount. Driving traffic to an experience that isn’t everything it can be is just that . . . driving traffic. Make sure you connect emotionally and get the most out of every interaction you have with your customer or prospect.

How do you apply visual storytelling? What lessons have you learned?